60 Minute Presentation from the Indiana Stormwater & Drainage Conf. posted: West Va. Chemical Spill

On February 12, Dr. Whelton delivered a 60 minute presentation regarding the West Va. Chemical Spill Response and Recovery to attendees of the Indiana Stormwater and Drainage Conference. The event was held in West Lafayette, Indiana and was attended by State regulators, infrastructure and environmental professionals from municipalities, surveyors, and representatives from the infrastructure and environmental design, build, and maintenance industry.  Several questions were raised by the audience some of which include “Did Freedom Industries have secondary containment onsite? How much liquid did the failed tank hold? Is the CDC approaching their responsibilities differently seeing that people were harmed by flushing contaminated water into their homes?”

The title of the presentation was Failing to Contain a Spill Upstream of a Drinking Water Intake: Lessons Learned from the Freedom Industries Chemical SpillA copy of the presentation can be downloaded here: Whelton Storm presentation February 2015. Additional information about detecting, investigating, and recovering from contamination events will be posted in the coming months.

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New Presentation: West Va. Chemical Spill & Plastic Plumbing System Water Quality

On February 10, Dr. Whelton delivered a presentation at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Cincinnati, Ohio office at the invitation of NCET (Network for Cincinnati EPA Trainee) Program. The title of the presentation was Drinking Water Plumbing Systems: Green Buildings and Chemical Contamination. The presentation described two different U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) research projects. One being his team’s past and ongoing research pertaining to the West Virginia chemical spill and the second project pertaining to their investigation of drinking water quality in plastic plumbing systems in the U.S. A copy of the presentation can be downloaded here: Whelton EPA presentation February 2015. A few slides were added to this file following his presentation. These slides include links to his team’s recently published scientific papers about these topics. Additional information about these research activities will be posted in the coming months.

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West Va. Chemical Spill Research Results: Here’s a Progress Update (revised Jan 1, 2015)

For many months, our University students and faculty colleagues have been hard at work conducting new laboratory experiments and extensively analyzing Freedom Industries chemical spill data. Below are published reports (that I am aware of) regarding the West Virginia chemical spill. If you know of more reports or publicly available testimony due to litigation please send me the links and I’ll post them.
My team continue’s to conduct additional follow-up experiments and these will be announced on Twitter (@TheWheltonGroup) and posted here when completed.

The journal of Environmental Science & Technology accepted our peer-review report. The journal published this  manuscript on their website. This document, “Residential Tap Water Contamination….” is available and the website information is listed below. If you are interested in what happened during and since January 9, 2014, you really should read this publication. In addition to an analysis of human health impact data, tap water quality, and flushing data, a very detailed timeline will accompany the report.

Related Scientific Reports and Events 
Below we have listed a number of activities we along with other researchers have participated in following the Freedom Industries chemical spill. The items listed below include scientific reports, presentations, town hall meetings, a public forum held at Purdue University, and even an OP-ED. We have also listed links to other documents that have been publicly released by other organizations.
Related 2014 Scientific Reports
American Chemical Society journal of Environmental Science & Technology
Journal of the American Water Works Association
Environmental Health Perspectives
West Va. Testing Assessment Project (WVTAP) reports (http://www.wvtapprogram.com)
  • In-Home Tap Water Sampling Plan. 2014. Rosen et al.
  • Crude MCHM Oxidation Study Technical Memo. 2014. McGuire et al.
  • Investigation of Tentatively Identified Compounds. 2014. Eaton et al.
  • Health Effects Expert Panel Report. 2014. Dourson et al.
  • [OUR STUDY] 10 Home Study: Tap water chemical analysis report. 2014. Whelton et al.
  • [OUR STUDY] 10 Home Study: Resident behavior, perceptions, and residence characteristics report. 2014. Whelton et al.
  • Consumer Panel Technical Memorandum. 2014. McGuire et al.
  • Technical Memorandum: Expert Panel Estimates of the Odor Threshold Concentration, Odor Recognition Concentration and Odor Objection Concentration for Crude methylcyclohexanemethanol in Water. 2014. McGuire et al.
  • [OUR STUDY] Literature Review: Health Effects for Chemicals in 2014 West Virginia Chemical Release: Crude MCHM Compounds, PPH and DiPPH. 2014. Adams et al.

There are also reports from the EPA, CDC, West Va. State Agencies, and Freedom Industries consultants. Many of these are cited in the soon to be published report from our team. Check back soon.

Our Presentations to the Public, Universities, Public Health, Water Industry, and Journalism Professionals
  • Defining Indiana’s Water Needs: Research and Solutions, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Society of Risk Analysis Conference. Denver, Colorado
  • Evergreen Arts and Humanities Series of Washington State Community College. Marietta, Ohio
  • Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. UMASS-Amherst. Amherst, Massachusetts
  • U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. Washington, D.C.
  • American Water Works Association (AWWA) Water Quality Technology Conference. New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Civil Engineering Hydraulics Program, Purdue University. West Lafayette, Indiana
  • AWWA Alabama Mississippi Section Annual Conference. Point Clear, Alabama
  • AWWA Water Infrastructure Conference. Atlanta, Georgia
  • Society of the Environmental Journalists Annual Conference. New Orleans, Louisiana
  • AWWA New England Section Annual Conference. Rockport, Maine
  • National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO) Annual Conference. Atlanta, Georgia
  • Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering. Purdue University. West Lafayette, Indiana
  • Advanced Material Research Institute. University of New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana
Opinion Pieces (OP-ED) By Us and Others
Our Participation in Public Forums, Educational Media, and Town Hall Meetings
  • “Science Nation” public service segment for the US National Science Foundation. In progress
  • Communications, Community, and Science: The Freedom Industries Chemical Spill Public Forum. West Lafayette, Indiana. Nov. 2014.
  • WVTAP public meeting. Charleston, West Virginia. Mar. 2014.
  • Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) sponsored town hall meetings at Marshall University in Huntington, WV and Putnam County, WV. Feb. 2014.
  • YouTube.com plumbing system flushing video developed for West Virginia residents by Krista Bryson, Ohio State University. Posted online at West Virginia Water Crisis: Exclusive *Crucial* Information about Flushing. Jan. 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rz3Y7rjnqEs
  • Blog posting at the West Virginia Water Crisis Blog. Your Questions Answered: Flushing Recommendations, Water and Water Systems Safety, and Health Concerns. Jan. 2014.  www.wvwatercrisis.com
Who Has or is Researching Issues Surrounding this Spill?
Below is a list of which organizations have or are currently conducting research in response to the Freedom Industries chemical spill. If you know of others, please email us and we will update this list. We tried to breakout the types of research into general categories. Some research teams are working on multiple topics. The organizations are listed alphabetically.
Risk Communication, Social, and Behavioral Impacts
Corona Environmental Consulting, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, University of Charleston, University of Kentucky, University Wisconsin-Madison
Environmental Sampling, Monitoring, and Modeling
Corona Environmental Consulting, Purdue University, Technical University of Denmark, University of Memphis, USGS, Virginia Tech, West Virginia University
Water Infrastructure Issues
Corona Environmental Consulting, Eurofins Eaton Analytical, Purdue University, McGuire Inc., UCLA, Utah State University, Virginia Tech, West Virginia University
Toxicological Examination
NIH National Toxicology Program, Northeastern University, Purdue University, TERA, University of South Alabama, Utah State University, USGS


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Plastic Drinking Water Plumbing System Results: Evaluated Leaching, Bacteria Growth, Carcinogens, and Odors

Over the past couple years we have tested many different brands of plastic pipe to determine the degree these plumbing materials can alter drinking water quality. We have also characterized drinking water from plastic plumbing systems in six States. This work continues to be funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) to enable us to better understand the phenomena that control the in-home drinking water quality.
Please browse below and contact us if you have any questions. Above all, we believe that it is important that transparent plumbing system material testing data be available so that construction professionals and homeowners can make the best material selection decision for their clients and themselves.
Contact Us if you have any questions at awhelton@purdue.edu.

List of Brands of Pipe we Have Tested

PEX-Uphonor, Sharkbite, Viega, Nibco, Apollo, AquaPEX, DuraPEX, Zurn
HDPE-ADS Polyflex
Don’t see your brand listed? Let us know and email us at awhelton@purdue.edu.

What We Tested during 1 Month Exposure of New Pipes

1. Ability of each material to:

Leach chemicals that promote bacteria growth in plumbing systems
Leach chemicals that have existing health limits
Cause the drinking water to have an odor
Leach chemicals that can be transformed into carcinogenic byproducts that have health limits
Leach chemicals that do not have existing health limits

2. Each material’s resistance to degradation and resistance to permeation

3. Each material’s ability to reduce chlorine disinfectant level

4. The role of chlorine disinfectant on affecting the drinking water chemical and odor impacts

NOTE: All materials we have tested are available in US building supply stores. All materials tested had been certified by the nonprofit organization, National Sanitation Foundation International (NSFI) Standard 61.

Location of the In-Home PEX Plumbing Systems We Tested

Alabama [Fairhope]
Colorado [Golden]
Maryland [Gaithersburg]
Oklahoma [Yukon]
Pennsylvania [West Chester]
Virginia [Floyd]
We also determined how pipe leaching can be affected by the cleaning method required by building code and the plumber.
Over the next several months more of our testing results will be made available. Many reports and publications have already been published and presented.
We will be presenting some of these results at the USGBC GreenBuild Conference in New Orleans, LA here. Dr. Alexandra Stenson and Andrew Whelton are principal investigators on the NSF project. Rebecca Bryant, Managing Principal of Watershed, LLC is also one of the project leaders.
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Our West Virginia Water Crisis OP-ED was Published by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)

NSPE OPED WheltonGupta (2014)The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) published our OP-ED in their August/September NSPE Magazine. The submission described part of our efforts following the 2014 West Virginia large-scale drinking water contamination disaster. Specifically, eight lessons learned were discussed. The NSPE website can be found here and a copy of the PDF OP-ED can be found here: Download the NSPE OPED WheltonGupta (2014) here).

Results of this OP-ED were made possible because of the contributions of many people. Students LaKia McMillan, Matt Connell, Jeff Gill, Keven Kelley, Caroline Novy, Jesus Estaba, Freddie Avera, Maryam Salehi, and Professor Kevin White are greatly appreciated. Funding for some of the effort conducted was provided to us by the US National Science Foundation and State of West Virginia. We also had the privilege of working with Corona Environmental Consulting President Jeffrey Rosen, along with Ayhaun Ergul, Jennifer Clancy, Tim Clancy, Tim Bartrand, Toxicological Excellence in Risk Assessment Executive director Mike Dourson and Jacqueline Patterson,  Utah State University Professor Craig Adams, CEO Michael J. McGuire, along with many other experts from West Virginia, across the US, Israel, and the UK.

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Toledo Water Crisis Report: Perspective, What do we know?

Late Monday afternoon August 4, the City of Toledo released their Preliminary Water Crisis Study Report. This report describes some of the data and actions taken during the recent large-scale tap water contamination incident. Earlier in the day, the Mayor of Toledo declared tap water safe to drink for the entire 500,000 person area. The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department then issued guidance to residents and businesses on how to flush their plumbing systems.

I provided some thoughts about their report below mainly focusing on tap water contamination response and recovery. In short, their preliminary report does not address many questions pertaining to the degree scientific principles were considered in water use, water testing, and flushing recommendations. The report also does not answer many of the public’s remaining questions. For an incident that affected 500,000 people, residents being told to flush contaminated water into their homes, and that the new water is safe, the lack of information provided by officials as of today is remarkable. Hopefully someone explains what happened and what data they used to make decisions in the coming days.

WheltonTweet Ban and Lack of Data

Who actually was involved in the response and decisions remains somewhat of a mystery

The report cites the Mayor, City of Toledo, Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, the Oregon treatment plant, Lake Superior University, Ohio EPA Columbus, and US EPA Cincinnati, but has no mention of CDC. According to the report the organizations listed above were the only organizations that had a hand in the data collection, analysis, reporting, and decision making process. Publicly, the health department proclaimed CDC was involved during an interview.  But CDC was not listed in the City of Toledo report? Who was involved and what advice did they provide? This is important information as it can clarify why certain decisions were made and who provided information.  I know many folks in the drinking water industry including other water companies and experts that contacted Ohio organizations involved and offered assistance. From what I understand, responders did not accept any assistance except from the few organizations listed above. Even so, they seem to have had contact with other organizations they did not disclose in their report (i.e., CDC).

Did officials mislead the public? It was really a Do Not Use order for some of the residents

The report portrays the responders considering the incident as a Do Not Drink /Do Not Boil Order, but that is not quite accurate. After issuing the Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil Order, the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department actually went further and publicly advised immunocompromised persons, children, and breastfeeding individuals not to have any contact with the water. That’s not a Do Not Drink Order. That’s a Do Not Use Order more similar to what was issued in West Virginia following the Crude MCHM Chemical Spill where 300,000 people were denied access to tap water for up to 10 days. The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department also advised people it was okay to brush their teeth with the contaminated water, then pulled back on that recommendation a day later. These conflicting messages implied that the responders were creating guidance on the fly, and/or did not understand what a Do Not Drink Order was.  The media kept reporting Do Not Drink orders, but the Health Department was advising the population to do more than simply not drink the water. The incident was a Do Not Use order for some people not just a Do Not Drink /Do Not Boil order.

Some of the reported microcystin data could be suspect because of water collection practices. It was a good decision to use multiple labs.

Water samples that were shipped to Lake Superior State University had chlorine residual present. Microcystin (toxin) is known to react and degrade (and transform into other compounds) when exposed to chlorine. Thus, during shipping some of the toxin could have been destroyed or transformed into other compounds. To limit these changes, chlorine residual neutralization should have been considered once the water was collected. No justification of why samples were allowed to react with chlorine during transport (or not) was provided. Microcystin experts reading this will likely have more insight into the analytical methods. Kudos to Lake Superior State University for their work on this effort. Great to see independent experts involved. It would be helpful if officials could explain their methods.

Were the water samples collected representative of the highest chemical levels in the water  system and at exposure locations?

During a quick response, responders generally collect water at easy to access locations such as at the source (i.e., Lake Erie), water plant, and within in the water distribution system (i.e., hydrants, restaurants, etc). This information is important to understand the scale of contamination (where the tainted water is). After tap water leaves the treatment plant, it does however take tap water different times to travel to different parts of the community so some tap water may be newer in certain other parts of the water system. Why were certain water distribution system locations selected for sampling? Do they  represent the entire water system or are they biased? Reasoning why the certain locations were selected was not provided in the report. Did the responders sample to find out the highest chemical levels in the water distribution system? Were they representative?

Also important to point out is that tap water quality at a fire hydrant is not necessarily the same as tap water quality in a residential building. It remains unclear if responders tested in-home locations. [BP Gas station plumbing systems are not the same as two story home plumbing systems, dormitories, or apartment complexes].Restaurants, government buildings, hydrants, gas stations, etc. were some of the tap water collection points. This is similar to West Virginia’s initial response. West Virginia only tested hydrants, government buildings, and businesses. But, the question everyone asked in West Virginia that turned out to be important was what chemical levels were in found at the exposure points….within people’s homes?

If Toledo learned from West Virginia, they would have considered sampling in homes. What did they do and why did they do it?

The plumbing system flushing protocol was never tested before residents were told to partake

The ability of the flushing protocol to reduce chemical levels within homes was never tested. The reason for this decision by the responders was not described in the report. Moreover, no personal safety guidance was provided to residents about how to avoid tap water chemical exposure during flushing. Was it okay to flush hot water with your children in the room or house? (see below for some scientific analysis)

The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department plumbing system flushing guidelines were nearly identical to those used in West Virginia (where people experienced acute chemical exposure symptoms while following those guidelines). Similar to West Virginia’s flushing guidelines, the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department guidelines are also similar to those when tap water with high levels of pipe corrosion products such lead and copper needs to be removed from plumbing systems. Water utilities have a long history of flushing certain chemicals out of their system to include lead, copper, iron, sediment, etc. I am not aware of any existing protocols for flushing microcystin contaminated tap water from homes however. This could be the first. What conditions would have been needed for officials to “test” the protocol before directing residents to partake?

There are key differences between the Toledo and West Virginia tap water contamination incidents that pertaining to flushing. Chemicals in West Virginia’s tap water were volatile meaning that they would readily evaporate from water into air. When West Virginians opened their taps to flush contaminated tap water, chemicals volatilized into the air. Flushing hot water in West Virginia exacerbated this problem. Many homes in West Virginia my team visited had poor ventilation bathrooms and chemically contaminated air accumulated. Like the West Virginia incident, hot water flushing was recommended in Toledo. But, in Toledo, microcystin (and likely its degradation products) were much less volatile. So, the probability of chemicals in Toledo’s water evaporating into air was much less. Still, should hot water flushing been recommended in Ohio knowing that organic chemicals volatilize into air faster than cold water?

As of August 5, no increased reports of acute chemical exposure symptoms had been reported in the Toledo area which is a good sign. I hope they address this topic in the coming days.

In Closing…

The Toledo incident again demonstrates that in the US, large portions of our population can be denied access to safe tap water and responding to contamination incidents is very complex. Seven months ago 15% of the people who live in West Virginia experienced something very similar.

I have no doubt officials responding to the Toledo incident worked very long hours, likely days without sleep and sacrificed many hours away from family and friends to help. We will never know the names of many of these individuals, but they should be widely thanked for their service in helping investigate and recover the community from this incident. These individuals helped out because they care about the health and welfare of the community similar to what I witnessed in West Virginia.

Several hours after the City Council meeting we have a little more information, but not much. According to the City of Toledo, EPA still has not released all of their data. There were tremendous data release delays by Federal government agencies during the West Virginia crisis. Federal agencies, from my perspective, were at times completely detached from the timeline of people who lived through the incident. The State of West Virginia requested numerous times for Federal agencies to provide data and results took months to obtain. Federal agencies were on their own timetable. Will that be the case in Ohio?

If residents affected by this incident are to feel confident in their tap water and officials, they need and deserve answers soon. If the Nation is to learn from this incident, more information must be made public. While there clearly is a need for improved nutrient control near Lake Erie, communities across the Nation can benefit from learning about the good and bad of this large-scale tap water contamination response. It’s inevitable; We all need safe tap water and these incidents will happen again.


Andrew Whelton, Ph.D.

NOTE: This post could be revised if information is brought to my attention requiring the post to be revised. Revision explanations, if any, will be posted at the bottom of the page. 
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Toledo and Surrounding Area: When they Tell you to Flush Toxin Tap Water from Your Homes ….

Dear Toledo Residents Affected by the Tap Water Contamination Incident:
I am sorry that you were affected by this contaminated tap water incident. As of 9pm EST Sunday August 3, the responders have not made public really any information (who’s involved, who’s providing advice, sampling results, locations, an explicit step-wise strategy, etc.). There is no single website you can go to find all of the information. Conflicting information has been released about what is and is not recommended for tap water contact. This no doubt is frustrating and you are a resilient community that has kept good spirit. The bottled water provisions and your National Guard are downright tremendous. Many acts of kindness from your community and across the state are touching. Many people across the country are thinking about you.
Hopefully, over the next couple days, the officials will shift your incident into one of recovery. As of right now, they seem to still be trying to figure out the extent of contamination. [If they had released data, this would be more clear].
Officials will likely mandate flushing of the buried water pipes, storage tanks, and decontamination of your home plumbing systems. After, of course, the results of the water testing inside resident homes are released (if any). Officials will likely recommend that you purge contaminated water from your home plumbing systems. You need to be aware of a few issues for the protection of your friends and family.
Shortly after the January 2014 West Virginia Chemical Spill in and large-scale tap water contamination incident, my students and I drove to West Virginia to help those affected. We were unfunded at the time, but in the coming weeks the NSF provided us emergency funding because of the scientific emergency need there. Prior to being a faculty member, I worked for the US Army and in research positions examining chemical fate in plumbing systems including decontamination. You can find our experiences on our website http://www.southce.org/ajwhelton and those for which I was asked by West Virginia Governor Tomblin to assist the state respond at http://www.WVTAPprogram.com.
In West Virginia, before being called in by the West Virginia Governor’s office to assist them, my university team discovered that the plumbing system flushing protocol endorsed by the State, EPA, CDC, water utility, and health departments caused many people (including myself and a student) to become ill. When we arrived residents were being told to flush their plumbing systems using this protocol. My team and I flushed several resident homes in an effort to determine how well the method worked.
Of the many issues with the West Virginia protocol, flushing hot water was recommended [bad idea], only flushing one time for 15 minutes was recommended [bad idea], and the protocol was never field tested to see if it worked so the population tested it on themselves [bad idea]. There were many other issues with this protocol which did not warn people about personal safety (gloves, masks, chemical sensitivity, pregnant individuals), rooms with poor or no ventilation (no windows, vent fans, etc.) [bad, bad ideas]. Nonetheless, none of the Federal and State organizations involved expressed concern about this before the 300,000 residents were directed to flush their plumbing systems. I pasted a weblink to the West Virginia protocol below. DO NOT directly apply the West Virginia approach in Toledo.
During the next week, you will embark on an effort to recover your plumbing systems and purge this contaminated water. Officials will ask you to take certain actions. It is critically important what you are told to do does NOT expose you or your family to harmful vapors. The Crude MCHM contaminated tap water in West Virginia had a very sharp, intense licorice odor. You could tell if you were being exposed. [In Toledo, microcystin and its degradation products, to my knowledge, do not have odor.] EPA, CDC, West Virginia, and the water utility in West Virginia all endorsed the flushing protocol that exposed West Virginians (and my team) to chemical vapors. No agency objected to the protocol which ultimately harmed some people. It is not logical to think that Ohio will be different if the same organizations are involved. Even more, information about who’s actually providing technical assistance to the responders is not even available. It could be some of the exact same people. You should ask the officials to know who is involved in this response and what their justifications are for the decisions they make.
NSF_LogoDuring the West Virginia incident, the US National Science Foundation provided my team RAPID funding to provide guidance on how to flush chemically contaminated plumbing systems. We conducted RAPID experiments to obtain data, tested tap water in homes, and made some very important discoveries. Some of those are listed above and others below.
  1. External parties should provide feedback on the protocol (not just people in the Emergency Operations Center or affiliated government agencies).
  2. All buried water assets should be purged of contaminated water….but assume some were not fully decon’d because of the complexity of the buried water distribution system.
  3. A protocol should be developed and pilot tested at a few homes (not government buildings). This would help officials headoff any unexpected issues (see West Virginia).
  4. Water testing before during and after flushing several homes should be conducted to determine its effectiveness. This will take 2-4 days. If this is not done, Toledo residents run the risk of being another example of what happens when responders ask you to see if the protocol works before they test it. Do not be their experiment.
  5. There are more recommendations…You can download an excerpt from our 2014 AWWA West Virginia presentation where we discussed some of our flushing findings here: Whelton WV pres for OH.
Drinking water contamination incidents are specialized crises. They require individuals with specialized skills not simply organizational affiliations. It is critically important your officials engage experts who know what to think about…and what not to do. There is a step-wise process for responding/ investigating, and recovering from an incident like you are experiencing. The playbook should not be written on the fly. 
I have offered my assistance to the Ohio Governor’s Office, State Agencies, Mayor’s office, Health Department, and water utility because I truly want to make certain you, your family, and friend’s health is protected. There is no reason why you cannot benefit from the lessons we learned in West Virginia.  
Andrew J. Whelton, Ph.D.


West Virginia flushing directions [—NOT RECOMMENDED FOR TOLEDO—] here: WV – How to flush
Grad student LaKia McMillan samples water inside a West Virginia home in January 2014 as part of our NSF funded plumbing system decontamination project.

Grad student LaKia McMillan samples water inside a West Virginia home in January 2014 as part of our NSF funded plumbing system decontamination project.

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New CRUDE MCHM Toxicity Results Presented at NACCHO 2014, Atlanta, Georgia

NACCHO ConfOn July 10, 2014 Dr. Andrew Whelton will release new CRUDE MCHM toxicity data during the closing plenary session of the National Association of City and County Health Officials Conference (NACCHO). The NACCHO event is being held in Atlanta, Georgia and is providing  local health officials and their public health partners from around the country information needed to improve public health for the people they serve. The closing plenary session focuses on what city and county health officials can do prepare to respond to large-scale drinking water contamination incidents. The other closing speakers include Dr. Rahul Gupta of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, Major General James Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard, and Dr. David Latif of the University of Charleston.
Whelton’s presentation centers around the role of science during the West Virginia Water Crisis and, how by the application of sound science and engineering principles, professionals can help communities respond to and recover from disasters. Much of his presentation highlights the work carried-out by his students, faculty colleagues, and the international WVTAP team of experts.
The July 10 National Association of City and County Health Officials Conference presentation PDF file can be downloaded here: Whelton NACCHO Presentation File.
The new data to be released by Whelton’s National Science Foundation research group reveals several key findings. Graduate student Caroline Novy was instrumental in the conduct of this work.
  • CRUDE MCHM was much more toxic to the freshwater indicator organism Daphnia magna than what Eastman Chemical Company found in their 1998 study. 
  • Whelton’s team determined, by applying a 48 hour exposure test, an effective concentration (EC50) of CRUDE MCHM of about 50 mg/L and a No Observed Effect Level (NOEC) of 6.25 mg/L. In contrast, Eastman Chemical Company’s 1998 report cited an EC50 of 98.1 mg/L and NOEC of 50 mg/L. The lower the EC50 and NOEC, the less amount of CRUDE MCHM is needed to cause toxicity.
  • Further complicating toxicity data reported by Eastman Chemical Company is that on their own CRUDE MSDS sheets from 2005 and 2011 the NOEC value reported was actually 40 mg/L, not 50 mg/L as they reported in the 1998 toxicity testing final report.
Dr. Whelton has mentioned that his team followed nearly identical experimental conditions to those applied by Eastman Chemical Company in 1998 (i.e., water chemistry, same concentrations, photo period, duplicates). However, Whelton’s group did deviate by replicating their testing three different times as they wanted to be certain of the result. Eastman Chemical Company only reported conducting toxicity testing once with this organism.
NSF_LogoFunding for the results presented by Whelton was provided by the US National Science Foundation Engineering RAPID Program award #1424627. 
Andrew’s research team is scheduled to deliver presentations at several upcoming events to include the AWWA Water Quality and Technology, Society of Environmental Journalists, and Society for Risk Analysis Conferences and Washington State Community College. These presentations may include additional findings from their ongoing research. [Every presentation his teams have delivered since the incident occurred has contained new data]
Dr. Whelton’s team can also be followed on Twitter at @TheWheltonGroup and on their blog. With a background in water system threat identification, contamination/decontamination procedures, preparedness exercises and chemical-material interaction research, his multidisciplinary team and collaborators are available to assist States, Health Departments, and Water Utilities better plan for, respond, and recover from drinking water disasters. Questions about the NACCHO file or related materials should be directed to Dr. Whelton.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The CRUDE MCHM aquatic toxicity information described in the presentation is not part of the WVTAP project funded by the West Virginia Bureau of Health. For information about the WVTAP project please visit the WVTAP website here.
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Green Buildings and Green Pipe: Drinking Water Odor, Chemicals, and Plastics in Real Buildings

Earlier this week, University of South Alabama graduate student Matt Connell, presented new drinking water impact results regarding plastic pipes in green buildings. At the American Water Works Association annual conference in Boston, Massachusetts, Connell discussed the degree chemicals leach from popular plastic plumbing pipes such as polyvinylchloride (PVC), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), along with crosslinked polyethylene (PEX). Connell also reported data from the research team’s analysis of drinking water quality impacts caused by polypropylene pipes (PP), plastics that are gaining wider acceptance in US hospitals and grocery stores for potable water transport. According to Connell’s earlier research, PEX is the least expensive type of domestic hot water plastic pipe ($0.48/ft), while polypropylene is the most expensive plastic ($0.94/ft). The PP pipe tested is well-known for it’s “green color”. A day earlier, Dr. Andrew Whelton, an Environmental Engineering Professor, described drinking water odor and chemical leaching results for six different brands of PEX pipe.
In addition to laboratory testing of PEX and PP pipes, Connell tested tap water from PEX pipe plumbed buildings located in Colorado, Maryland, and Oklahoma. All pipes tested were stamped with labels indicating they had successfully past the NSFI Standard 61 – Health Effects test commonly used for plumbing materials in the USA.
The research described by Connell was part of a project funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Environmental Engineering Professor Andrew Whelton, Chemistry Professor Alexandra Stenson, and Watershed, LLC Managing Principal Rebecca Bryant. The project goal is to develop the information needed for building professionals to improve indoor drinking water quality in green buildings. A copy of Matt Connell’s downloadable AWWA presentation can be found here: Connell AWWA Pres 06102014.
In conclusion, the researchers found:
  1. The single brand of PP, PVC, and HDPE pipe tested never exceeded a 100 ug/L assimiable organic carbon (AOC) “threshold for bacterial regrowth,” and 5 of 8 PEX pipe brands exceeded the threshold at some point during the 28 day study. However, AOC release was highly variable across PEX pipe brands where some pipes did not impart any AOC to the water. AOC measurement is applied by scientists and engineers to estimate the potential that bacteria can grow in water.
  2. A direct comparison between three pipes, two PEX pipes and a single PP brand revealed the single brand of PP pipe tested caused less odor compared to the two PEX pipes examined.
  3. All three pipes released regulated and unregulated chemicals into drinking water that included pipe manufacture ingredients and their degradation products. There were wide variations between the magnitude of chemicals released by PEX pipes. One PEX pipe significantly altered drinking water quality while the other did not.
  4. Where one PEX pipe plumbing system was tested in Colorado, Maryland, and Oklahoma, chemicals were found in building tap water were associated with PEX pipe ingredients and degradation products. Odors were also present in building tap waters, but only tap water within one home had odor levels different from the water distribution system (before water entered the PEX plumbing system). Chemicals identified in the third home’s tap water were found above the level at which they would cause odor problems.
The research is part of a three year project being funded by the National Science Foundation. The following individuals have participated in this project: USA graduate students Keven Kelley, Jeff Gill, Markus Moore; Undergraduate civil engineering students Rachael Cooley, Logan Dunn, William Radcliffe, chemistry students Raj Ghosal, Shelby Boyd, and business student Luis Navarro.
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PEX Pipe, West Virginia MCHM Plumbing System Interaction Results

AWWA Pres WheltonNew data was released June 9 suggesting mixed results by West Virginia authorities’ flushing protocol following a large-scale drinking water contamination incident earlier this year. The research results also show some, but limited, chemical permeation by one type of residential plastic piping. Dr. Whelton presented the findings at the American Water Works Association annual conference in Boston along with additional data pertaining to another NSF funded project. The West Virginia research focused on the aftermath of the January leak that affected 300,000 people around Charleston. A copy of the downloadable PDF presentation can be found here: Whelton AWWA pres Jun ’14. [This file describes results of two (2) different projects. The West Virginia research is the second project described.]
“Crosslinked polyethylene pipes, which can be found in any local building supply store, are increasingly being used in US residential and commercial plumbing systems. This material is nearly six times less expensive compared to traditional copper piping,” Whelton said. “While plastic pipes have certain benefits, there remains a lack of information involving their interaction with chemicals.”
Whelton and a team of USA researchers traveled to West Virginia after several thousand gallons of CRUDE 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM), used in coal processing, leaked into the Elk River. The leak occurred 1.5 miles upstream of the regional water utility treatment plant’s intake. The leak was discovered Jan. 9 after residents detected a licorice odor, leading to a temporary water use ban and water safety concerns. Contaminated water was distributed to a nine county area and into more than 87,000 buildings.
The USA researchers helped residents flush out their plumbing systems and began collecting data to try to determine what effect the contaminated water might have on plumbing systems and the water flowing through them. During their in-home sampling they found several homes contained crosslinked polyethylene water pipes in addition to other plastic and metal pipes.
Bryson YouTubeVideo FlushingThe utility, West Virginia American Water, whose filters were contaminated by the Freedom Industries spill told residents to flush all hot water taps for 15 minutes, followed by cold water taps for 5 minutes, then all remaining faucets and appliances. Whelton’s team advised residents to take additional steps by turning off hot water heaters before flushing, flush a single faucet at a time, and to ventilate buildings during flushing. Their concerns were that chemical exposure should be more limited and that a single flush would not completely clean-out the plumbing systems. In late January, Ohio State University student Krista Bryson published a video describing the flushing recommendations of the USA team during the incident.
In Boston, Whelton’s team reported 4-MCHM levels within homes they visited ranged from approximately 60 ppb to more than 400 ppb. They found that flushing reduced 4-MCHM levels by 80% to 100% in two homes tested, while the 4-MCHM level was relatively unchanged in a third home. Whelton said it is unclear why flushing did not reduce 4-MCHM levels on the third home. He proposed that 4-MCHM levels within the utility’s nearby main lines could still have been elevated. “We flushed all of the unflushed homes we entered personally” Whelton stated. “We know for a fact that flushing actions were similar across the unflushed homes we tested.” The USA team visited homes in Kanawha and Putnam counties. some homes that were located at the end of cul-de-sac’s.
Their research also suggested CRUDE MCHM’s main ingredient, 4-MCHM, permeated crosslinked polyethylene pipe in laboratory testing. For comparison purposes, Whelton’s team compared 4-MCHM interaction with plastic pipe to that of toluene and cyclohexane, two chemicals not present in the tap water. “We know from other studies as well as those we recently conducted that toluene and cyclohexane can rapidly permeate plastic pipe whereas 4-MCHM permeation was not rapid, but limited 4-MCHM permeation likely occurred.” This finding is important because tap water was stagnated during the ban on water use. Some residents refused to flush their plumbing systems for more than 30 days because of their own water safety concerns even after being asked by the water company to do so.
Whelton’s team previously reported results of their in-home resident survey in March 2014 at a Seminar at the University of New Orleans. In April Dr. Gupta of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department presented some of the USA team’s new health impact data during a National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO) training event. Gupta and Whelton’s team estimated nearly 100,000 people experienced negative health impacts caused by the incident, with a majority presenting to physicians not located at hospitals, and some persons did not seek medical care at all.
“Our plastic pipe results are promising considering the 4 to 10 day mandatory tap water stagnation period ordered by the utility,” Whelton said. “More research needs to be conducted to provide a more definitive picture. Funding by the US National Science Foundation and support from Environmental Engineering Program Officer Dr. Bill Cooper has been instrumental in our ability to release these results today. We are continuing to study CRUDE MCHM’s interaction with other plumbing system components, as various types of materials are used in plumbing systems, not just crosslinked polyethylene pipe.”
Participating in the research were Kevin White, chair of civil engineering; environmental engineering graduate students Keven Kelley and Jeff Gill; environmental toxicology graduate students Matt Connell, LaKia McMillan and Caroline Novy; civil engineering undergraduate student Fredrick Avera; and chemical engineering undergraduate student Mahmoud Alkhaout. A copy of the University of South Alabama press release can be found here: USA Research Team Releases Findings
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